Spring Planting on Jacob Heim Farm 1875

Feature Story May 2005
Spring Planting on Jacob Heim Farm 1875
Credits: (the story of planting is from the book “Westward Bound” compiled by Melvin J. Heim and Mary Heim Bilsing. 1965)
Melvin Heim’s son, Dr. Keith Heim now living in Lincoln, Nebraska owns the copyright to the book.
The spring of 1875 started out very promising. They bought three more horses and Jacob Heim started to break out eighty acres of prairie on the south side of the 320 acres. The fields in Pennsylvania were no longer than three or four acres, and he became very tired going around an 80 acre field. He thought he would never get done. Joe and Sam plowed and planted the fields on the eighty to spring wheat, corn, and a small patch of sorghum. They rented eighty acres from Steve Barlow which was one mile east of their’ eighty. This, they planted to corn.The corn was planted in this manner: Four poles were nailed together, spaced the width of cornrows (40 inches). This was dragged across the field and then across the first marks the other way, thus placing the corn hills in a square.

They had purchased four hand planters in Dawson and Joe, Jonathan, Sam and Sarah each planted corn with these hand planters. They could plant about eight or ten acres in a day. Since the soil was new and fertile, the corn came up and grew very fast. They purchased two new departure-walking cultivators and Joe and Sam, sometimes Jonathan, would run them. They went over the corn and started to cross cultivate it. The wheat looked nice and the sorghum was coming along.
One morning, Joe and Sam were cross -cultivating corn in the field east of the new house. It was a cool morning and Sam wore his vest. However, he soon hung it on a bush as the end of the field. About ten o’clock, they began to hear a funny noise and the san was darkened. They wondered if a thunderstorm was coming from the southwest. Soon grasshoppers began to come down to the ground in clouds and began to eat on the tender corn. As it was almost noon, they unhitched the horses and went to the house.

The hoppers came down thicker and thicker. After dinner they walked over the fields and there was no corn left. The hoppers were standing on their heads eating the corn out of the ground.

That evening, Sam went back to get his vest that he had forgotten to take home at noon. When he took hold of it, it fell to pieces. The hoppers had completely ruined it. Even the cultivator handles were all roughed up from the hoppers. They took the cultivators to the stable and covered them with hay to keep the hoppers from eating them. What should they do? The hoppers were ruining everything. Only the prairie grass and sorghum escaped. The spring wheat, just beginning to head soon was completely eaten. Not a single straw remained!

Mr. Allen heard that coal oil would kill the hoppers. The tinner in Dawson began to make tin pans 14 feet long, 2 feet wide and about 3 inches deep. To this, a two-foot back was attached, and this was covered with canvas.

The stores sold coal oil by the gallons (5 cents a gallon), and Jacob, as all the rest of the settlers, bought a grasshopper pan. Sam and Joe or Jacob and Jonathan would drag this pan over the fields. When the pan became loaded down with hoppers, they emptied it in piles and added more coal oil. They got great big piles across the fields, but they might just as well have tried to dip the Missouri River dry with a spoon. Rebecca and Sophia, used to watch the hoppers. The hoppers always hopped to the northeast. The girls would catch several and whirl around with them and face them toward the southwest, but they always turned around and went toward the northeast.

The hoppers soon had eaten everything. The morning of June 17, the hoppers began to rise up in the air in great clouds and fly towards the northeast. They darkened the sun as they had when they had come. By that evening, they had all left except for a very few that were cripped and could not fly. They landed again in south -western Iowa and ruined the crops there.

Again Jacob called a family council. What should they do? They decided if they didn’t plant, they wouldn’t reap, so they took a chance. God would surely help them if they tried.

Most of the settlers did not replant. They were content to take handouts from people in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, who made up car loads of food, clothing and articles of all kinds for the grasshopper victims. Jacob only went for these handouts once. They had no overcoats which they needed badly the winter before, so Jacob went and got a blue northern army overcoat with a large cape on it. This they took turns wearing in the cold weather.

The fields that had been destroyed by the hoppers were clean and bare of weeds so all they had to do was to rework them to plant. They worked from early till late, jabbing the hand corn planters as fast as they could. They became so skilled that they could plant almost as fast as they could walk.

They planted all the ground originally planted to spring wheat to corn. The season was good. The rains seemed to come at the right time and the weeds were never any trouble. The frost in the fall held off till late, giving the corn time to mature. That fall they all helped shuck the corn and had several great piles on the ground, consisting of several thousand bushels. Most of the neighbors had none because they had not replanted.
That winter and spring the settlers from miles around came to buy corn for horse feed, for human feed, and later for seed to plant again in the spring. This gave the Jacob Heim family a start, and from then on they made money.